I changed my mind and decided to break this chapter up into two parts because of the size. The NEXT chapter will be the last one (hopefully, we'll see how it goes). Anyway, here is part 8, I hope you enjoy!
The sun shined brightly on the rocky crag, warming the pale sandstone that sustained the form of Australia. Ducking and weaving through the bushes and trees, two children chased after each other in an ever-changing game of tag. The older sister, nine, easily caught her younger brother, seven, each and every time she was “it”. Being in the global south, Australia was on the verge of entering summer, the temperate spine of southern Australia was experiencing a growing warmth. Just a stone’s throw away, Antarctica was beginning to sweat like a transsexual in prison.
“Wait up Jess!” The boy shouted, wishing his legs were as long as his sister’s. At his height, trying to catch up to Jess was like trying to beat her in a bike race with him on a tiny tricycle and she on an old fashion British bicycle with the towering front wheel. Black hair swinging behind her with each step, Jess laughed as she watched her brother scramble after her.
“Better hurry up Isaac, babies that fall behind never last long in the wild!” She cackled as she ran up the side of the mountain.
“That’s not funny!” He cried out, watching as the shallow stone slope brought her high above the trees. The face of the mountain was solid stone and has resisted weathering and erosion for millions of years, never allowing anything larger than shrubbery to gain a foothold.
Sitting down on the warm rock surface, Jess watched her brother sprint out of the forest with fear in his eyes, as if being chased by imaginary animals. He scurried up the mountainside and settled down beside her.
“Mom said you’re not supposed to leave me alone.”
“You were alone for thirty seconds. If something bad could happen to you in the thirty seconds I turn my back, then you DESERVE to have it happen to you.”
“Well you don’t have to be mean.” Isaac pouted.
“Oh grow up.” His sister scoffed before getting up and walking higher along the side of the mountain.
“Jess, wait!” He whined, stumbling after her and she ducked behind a protruding stone jetty, reaching out of the mountainside like the cliff from the Lion King.
She found her sister on the other side of the protrusion, crouched over what appeared to be a manhole of hard-packed soil set into the stone at an angle. It almost looked like a pit carved into the mountain, about the size of a car door but only a few inches deep.
“What is it Jess?” Her brother asked, wondering what had caught her attention.
“That big storm last night washed this out and caused a lot of the dirt to melt away. Look at the sides of this pit, it’s chiseled.”
Jess turned to him with a grin.
“Someone carved this out, which means it may go deeper. In fact, someone may have buried something in here.”
“You mean like pirates?!” Her brother exclaimed with his face lighting up like a Christmas tree.
“Maybe! Let’s see how deep it goes!”
Alex sat on a bench in the rehab facility courtyard, staring down at the shed leaves that smothered the yard. Above him, the barren fingers of the trees swayed ever so gently in the breeze, having lost their sails to the inevitable chill. It was halfway through November and the temperature was just above freezing, yet Alex sat with only a button-down shirt as an secondary layer for his chest. The expression on his face was like that of a self-loathing drug addict sitting in a damp alley. The only emotion on his face was one of despair, and it was that expression alone that projected his presence in the world of the living.
Wearing a dense blue coat from LL Bean, Christi approached and sat down beside him, looking across the fenced-in yard and up at the grey sky.
“Aren’t you cold?” She asked, unsure of what else she could say.
“This is nothing. I know how it feels to freeze to death, and compared to that, this is nothing more than looking into a refrigerator.”
“Alex, you didn’t freeze to death. You’re still here, that proves that everything that you saw wasn’t real.” She murmured.
“It was real. The monsters I saw, the horrors I encountered, and the hallucinations I suffered may have been fake… But the pain I experienced was all too real. I lost track of the number of times I had my eyes gouged out, my muscles ripped from my bones, my flesh sawed to pulp, and my skeleton crushed into powder. What I went through was truly Hell.”
“Alex…” Christi leaned over and clutched his hand. His bloodshot eyes swiveled to her.
“I watched you die so many times… You were butchered, eaten, set on fire, skinned alive, and even raped to death. I heard your dying screams, I stared into your eyes as you died, I was showered in your blood… Even now, I’m expecting you to spontaneously combust and for my hallucination to continue. It may not have been real, but the pain of watching someone you love die in the most horrific ways is still as haunting as if they happened in this world.”
Christi bit her lip, having gained a sudden chill from Alex’s description. She imagined herself experiencing those deaths, tried to imagine what it would feel like to endure them and to endure watching someone she cared about suffer as well. If she had gone through the same pain as Alex had, watched him die the same way he had watched her… wouldn’t she be in the same state?
Christi slowly got up and walked over to the entrance to the courtyard, where Nelson was waiting.
“I thought you said that you made him better! He’s a wreck!” She hissed.
“I never said I made him better, I said I freed him of the Black Stigmata’s influence. Now he won’t enter the psychotic stage and go on rampages, and unless he comes within close proximity to a nail, the chances of him ever suffering a hallucination are zero. Believe it or not, he is actually inoculated now against the Black Stigmata. Not only has his brain learned to recognize it, but the damage inflicted to his psyche by the drugs have turned him into an unsuitable host.”
Christi looked back at Alex, her face lined with worry and her eyes trembling as if she were about to cry.
“I just can’t believe this happened to him. I can’t believe something like actually could happen to him. I never thought these things were possible. Is there anything I can do to help him?”
“Just stay with him. Try and cheer him up. He’ll recover before too long, he just needs time to let his mind rest and pull itself together. We’ve been relatively lucky so far, hopefully he’ll return to his old self. Just remember that even though everything he experienced was in his mind, it was no less painful. For all we know, his perception of time may have been warped while he was under. The 48 hours we experienced while he was unconscious could have been 48 years for him, in which he was tortured and killed over and over again without reprieve.”
The ringing of Professor Nelson’s phone broke the conversation.
“Excuse me.” He mumbled as he revealed the ringing device. Turning his back to Christi, he began speaking while she switched her attention between him and Alex, with her focus quickly being drawn to the one-sided diaglogue.
“Hello. This is. Mr. Chairman? I certainly haven’t heard from you for a while. What’s the occasion? Wait, what?”
Several silent moments passed by, with the tension of Nelson’s phone call practically radiating from him like body heat.
“Have they dated it? You can’t be serious! There is no way, that is just not possible!” Nelson exclaimed. Christi stepped back, surprised by this sudden burst of shock in the professor. Even Alex turned his head in attention, having never seen Nelson get so worked up.
“Ok, when is the next flight? Perfect.”
Nelson then hung up his phone and slumped to the ground with his hand over one side of his face.
“Professor? What’s wrong?” Christi asked while Alex approached with a concerned look on his face.
“They just found something in Australia… buried in a mountain. If… if this is authentic, then everything we known about the development of mankind could be wrong. Everything we thought we knew about prehistory could be a lie!”
“Professor, what did they find?!” Alex demanded, getting down on one knee and grabbing Nelson by the shoulders. Nelson stared him with blank eyes.
“The oldest mentioning of the Black Stigmata, written by humans 65 million years ago.”
“But humans weren’t around 65 millions years ago. 65 thousand? Maybe.” Alex argued.
“It seems we were wrong. Oh god, we were so wrong. Alex, you said you wanted to help me, well now’s your chance. You’re not going home just yet, tomorrow you’re coming with me to Australia.”
“This is the last thing you need right now! You should be at home resting!” Christi nagged, chasing after Alex through the airport terminal.
Slung over his shoulder was a duffle bag containing a few extra pairs of clothes and other essentials that could all be found in the airport gift shops. After seeing the condition his Black Stigmata-LSD Blitzkrieg had left him in, she wanted him to be at home and in bed, yet it seemed like hearing about this cave in Australia had accelerated his recovery. His light-heartedness had yet to return and a smile had never once crossed his face since waking up, but he definitely seemed more alert and active now. No longer could he just be placed somewhere to stand or sit motionlessly for hours on end like a display mannequin, he was once again aware of his surroundings and responsive. In fact, he was downright dedicated and stubborn.
For all intensive purposes, the charges against him in the death of the cop from earlier were dropped and anything on his record was wiped clean. Due to his mental condition and the reasoning behind his incarceration in the institute, he was diagnosed with severe PTSD, brought on by his escape from the prison during the riot and narrowly avoiding death when the plane crashed. As far as anyone knew, he was still institutionalized.
“I spent the worst two days of my life tied to a bed, I don’t want to spend another two days in the same position.” Alex grunted without even turning to her.
“But what about your family, don’t you want to see them?”
“I told Nelson that I didn’t want to waste anymore time waiting for things to get better. I do want to go home, I can’t tell you how badly I want to see my parents and Colleen… but I have to do everything I can to fight this before I allow myself time to relax. Besides, after what I went through, I’ll go stir crazy if I’m not active.”
Christi reached out and grasped his hand, forcing him to stop and face her.
“Please Alex, don’t let this take over your life. I don’t want you to become a chain-smoking shell of your former self like Nelson. One day, just go home for one day. Hug your parents, talk to your sister, watch some porn for all I care! Just please do something that will actually make you smile! Don’t let this consume you!” She begged.
Alex stepped closer to Christi and surprised her by lifting her chin and softly kissing her.
“I won’t, I promise.”
Considering latitude and longitude, it was not an exaggeration to say that Alex and Professor Nelson were traveling to the opposite side of the globe. More than forty hours were spent in uncomfortable chairs with little legroom and poor air circulation. The vast majority of that time was spent with dead silence between the two men, both because neither of them were the talkative types and anything pertaining to the Black Stigmata was taboo when in public. Luckily Alex had notebooks and records of the BSC on hand for him to read through, to let him familiarize himself with the organization he was trying to get into.
“You must be Professor Chris Nelson, I’ve heard a lot about you.”
With a beard and gut that made him look like Santa Claus but a surprising Scottish accent, the archeologist shook Nelson’s hand as soon as the former teacher stepped out of his rented jeep. He and Alex had reached the dig site, and both men were eager to see the cave.
“Professor James Titus, the BSC’s chief archeologist. I’m glad we finally meet.”
The oversized dwarf then turned to Alex.
“And you are…?” He asked, shaking his hand.
“Alex Stevens, consider him a new intern.” Nelson interrupted while stomping out the butt of his cigarette.
“So tell me, is it true?”
“Without a doubt. We’ve been able to carbon-date the remains of animal fat used for lanterns, and they support the initial findings. We’ve had teams of geologists in there putting their degrees to work, and they all attest to its age! 65 million years old, it’s astounding!” Titus said giddily.
Looking up at the small sandstone mountain, Nelson felt his heart rate rise.
“And you say it was written in Sumerian?” Alex asked, following the two professors up the side of the mountain towards the excavation site.
“Yes, in probably the rarest dialect we’ve ever seen.” Titus panted.
“For a language to last 65 million years is truly astounding. The only possible explanation I can think of is that it was lost for eons and then rediscovered by the Sumerians through time capsules like this one.” Said Nelson.
It took a while for the trio to make the short hike up the mountainside. For a field man, Titus was anything but fit, and Nelson’s chain smoking was coming back to bite him. Alex constantly had to stop and wait for them, praying that he would age more gracefully than they had.
“Have you ever heard of the Cambodian Stegosaurus?” Nelson asked, trying to pass the time.
“I do recall that name, but nothing else.”
“In an ancient Cambodian temple, there is a depiction of what many people consider to be a stegosaurus in the wild. Even I’ll admit it looks genuine. It’s one of the most popular arguments for the Young Earth Creationists. They claim it to be proof that humans and dinosaurs coexisted like something out of the Flintstones.”
“And to think, men like us would laugh at them!” Titus boomed.
“Meh, we can still laugh. If this site is truly authentic, then they’re wrong about the age of the planet. Humans and dinosaurs may have coexisted, but they did so tens of millions of years ago.”
Upon finally reaching the entrance to the narrow cavern, Titus offered the first entrance to Nelson. Lantern in hand, he slowly lowered himself down the 35º shaft, moving in an awkward crab walk with Alex following him and then Titus. The sides of the shaft were still lined with dirt, but much of it had been cleaned away to reveal the chiseled sandstone. No cracks or seams could be found in the rock, the mountain was a single unbroken bump of the earth.
Thirty feet down into the mountain, the passage finally opened up into a chamber the size of a stream-line trailer, with lights already set up to shine on the cavern walls. The walls themselves had been meticulously cleaned, with the dirt removed without damaging the stone. With the soil removed, black symbols stood out on the wall as if written in ink, due to the lights on the ground shining up onto the engravings. Like the Hammurabi Column, vast lines of ancient Sumerian had been written into the stone with perfect skill and precise detail. At the far end of the chamber was a depiction of a Black Stigmata nail as large as Nelson’s arm, with a human eye beneath it like the dot of an exclamation point.
“Looking at this, I can’t help but wonder if these goddamn nails are as old as the earth itself…” Said Titus as Nelson and Alex stared at the walls, completely awestuck.
“No… it couldn’t be…” Nelson muttered, crouching down and holding his glasses out like a magnifier to increase the size of the symbols on the wall.
“These letters aren’t just Sumerian. Symbols of the Black Stigmata are incorporated into these lines. And look, there’s some Latin, Egyptian, Archaic Chinese, and symbols from countless other ancient languages. ”
“Exactly, that was our first sign of a mentioning of the nails.” Titus boasted.
“You mean it’s a combination of the Black Stigmata and other languages into a single language?” Asked Alex.
“Precisely. Whether he had decoded it himself or already knew it, the man who made this tunnel understood the language of the Black Stigmata. Or perhaps the symbols of the Black Stigmata were once used for a language, after being adopted by early humans. These lines are an intermediary stage of the evolution of the Black Stigmata language turning into Sumerian and countless other languages, like the birth of Spanglish in North America. After 65 million years, I doubt ancient Sumerian has anything in common with this dialect. But if we can compare them and hopefully find a link between them, then we may be able to find the same meaning in the symbols as they originally had. For all we know, the Black Stigmata may be manmade, with the symbols being an actual human language, perhaps the first language in the history of the world.”
“We have a camp set up nearby with detailed scans of every surface of this cave. We’ll have everything you need to decode it.” Titus said excitedly.
“We have no time to lose. Let’s get going.”
About the follow Alex and Titus back up the tunnel, Nelson stopped and shined his light down at the ground. Under the end of his sho3 was a stone the size of his hand, gleaming from the illumination of his light. His brow furrowed in curious agitation, he reached down and examined the rock.
“Professor?” Titus called out, watching as Nelson turned his attention to the walls and ceiling of the cave.
“This rock doesn’t belong here. It’s not sandstone and there aren’t any mineral veins in here that it could have broken off from. Plus it’s too weathered to have not come from outside. It’s not hard enough for sharpening and not sharp enough for carving. I doubt it fell down here, considering the composition of the mountain… This was placed here. But why?”
The three men were locked in silent contemplation.
Both professors turned to Alex.
“Excuse me?” Asked Titus.
“What, I figured you two of all people would know about Göbekli Tepe. Don’t you watch Ancient Aliens?”
“First of all, of course we know about Göbekli Tepe. We’re not talking about some indi-rock band. Second, I sure as hell don’t watch that drivel and I hope for the sake of the entire field of archeology that Professor Titus doesn’t either. We’re historians, not schizophrenic scientologists.” Nelson scolded.
“Ancient Aliens is a very informative show and you know it! You just have to look past the personal opinions and theories of the experts!” Alex shot back.
“Experts, right. It’s the FOX News of lunatics who believe that Big Foot was a genetic experiment and the Loch Ness Monster is telepathic. It’s hard to listen to show when the spokesman has the hair of a gigolo from the 70’s.”
“You’re just jealous that your hair isn’t that good.”
“Can we PLEASE get back to the matter at hand?!” Titus interrupted. Alex looked back at Nelson.
“This isn’t over.” He growled.
“Oh shut up and get on with it.” Nelson sighed.
“Alright. On Ancient Aliens, they said that only way a temple complex as old as Göbekli Tepe could remain in such good condition is if it was buried intentionally after its creation. Think about it: even in this cave, these carvings are not safe from the elements. Water, wind, temperature changes, animals, and vegetation could all reduce these engravings to nothing more than rugged stone if left alone for 65 millions years. This cave is man-made right? It’s chiseled?”
“Yes, that is correct.” Titus answered.
“Why would someone spend all that time and energy carving out a tunnel when there were probably thousands of other caves within walking distance that nature had already formed? It’s because that tunnel would be far more stable and solid than any opening naturally created through fissures or running water. The maker carved a tunnel into the very center of a solid mountain and then filled it with dirt and rocks to prevent the carvings from being damaged. This mountain wasn’t simply a canvas for him to write on, the mountain itself is being used to protect the engravings like bubble wrap. He wanted these engravings to stand the test of time and be rediscovered.”
“If that’s true, then whoever formed this tunnel would have a strong knowledge of geology and would understand the changes that occur in the earth over the course of millions of years. He picked this solid mountain specifically because it was guaranteed to survive earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, shifting of plate tectonics, changing coastlines, and everything else that would destroy historical records. It’s like America burying radioactive waste deep in salt mines where it can do no harm, except the maker wanted this chamber to be rediscovered long after his death. He wanted people to find it and learn the truth and was planning millions or even billions of years ahead.” Nelson hummed.
“But what could this information be that is so important to deserve such protection?” Titus inquired.
“The maker of this cave wanted this information to be found… He wanted it to remain intact at all costs. He wanted it to exist long after his death, to be here… when mankind could finally use it. He knew that the Black Stigmata could not be stopped by someone from his period in time, so he left this knowledge as a time capsule, waiting for it to be rediscovered by people who could put it to good use. This information has a beneficial purpose, it has a meaning, it has a use… This cave may tell us how to stop the Black Stigmata once and for all.” Said Nelson.
The BSC camp was a town of tents and trailers, filled with people from the organization brought together to help investigate the scene. The job was split up into two divisions: translating the text on the walls from their numerous languages, and figuring out the meaning in the Black Stigmata symbols depending on their placement in the words seen. Because of the age of the engravings, it would be a miracle if the message could be deciphered. 65 million years, the very idea of human society being around that long made people’s heads spin. If even half of the languages used in the engravings still existed after so long, there was still the issue of syntax and vocabulary. Words could have easily changed their meaning or even ceased to be used by the time the Sumerians came along. Ancient Hindi was already considered a lost language, incapable of translation, so the translation team was truly blessed to have as much leeway as they did.
Having originally hoped to be on the front lines in deciphering this message from the past, Alex found himself instead as everyone’s errand boy. Coffee, books, scans, s-rays, and notes were always in his hands, about to be delivered to someone much more important than him. Oh well, Nelson had said that he was essentially just an intern, he should have expected this. Besides, considering how badly he failed Latin class in high school and Spanish in middle school, he couldn’t imagine being anything but a nuisance if he actually tried to work alongside these skilled linguists and historians. He was just some dopey college student from Maine who didn’t even know what he was majoring in. He was happy for the work though, he finally felt like he was being at least slightly useful.
After the first few days of work, when all possible information could be gleaned from the cavern, the investigation was moved into the nearby town and an office building was rented for BSC use.
Alex tossed and turned on his small cot, stuck in a half-asleep state. Memories from his coma were returning, very specific memories. What he had endured while comatose was not like when he entered the psychotic stage of the Black Stigmata, his memories of what happened to him were all too clear. As soon as he had woken up, he had been assailed with memories of all the ways he had suffered and died. But there were times when what he saw and experienced overwhelmed him and left him unable to remember. Every time he slept, his mind managed to uncover a few of these memories, lying at the very bottom of the toxic stew of pain and suffering from his coma. Almost every night, the same memory played after a montage of new memories were revealed: the scene in the hospital.
“Colleen!” He exclaimed, waking up and falling off his cot in the process.
He lay there for several seconds on the rough carpet, feeling the woven threads rub against his skin like hair stubbles. He was drenched in sweat, his mind playing the memory over and over again. He remembered what he had done to her, his own sister. Unbeknownst to Alex, what he thought had been a simple dream of raping his sister was actually the power of the Black Stigmata allowing his hallucinations to reach out and brush against Colleen’s dreams, for their minds to join and let them fulfill the twisted act of incest.
Mentally twisted beyond repair, his sister had asked him to rape her, and as a broken man under the influence of drugs and abominable evil that would put the devil to shame, he had taken advantage of her and brutalized her. He remembered her screams and blood as he took advantage of a heavily wounded and mentally unstable girl. It was not like when the Black Stigmata used him as a puppet to rape that woman, he had simply had his inhibitions stripped away to the point where he acted on some form of malicious instinct and raw sexual drive. But whether his sister had been just a figment of his imagination or was really there, it didn’t matter. To him, what he did was real. Some part of his soul had wanted to use and abuse his little sister, it existed somewhere deep inside him, as real as the blood in his veins.
Overwhelmed with guilt and disgust, he pushed himself to his feet and started walking down the halls of the office building. He wasn’t the only person sleeping on a tiny cot in this building, many of the staff had to camp out here for the brief times they were allowed to sleep. Most of the crew had been put up in nearby hotels, but the BSC budget left much to be desired. Due to him being an unofficial intern, Alex was at the bottom of the barrel in terms of amenities. But he had a bed in an empty office, access to bathrooms with showers, and got to eat the food that the BSC ordered in. It was certainly far from glamorous, but it kept him busy, and he needed that now more than ever.
Staggering like a zombie, he soon found himself in the office that Professor Nelson was working in. It was a quarter to 3, but the professor was working tirelessly at his desk. The floor was covered in food wrappers and half-eaten meals, stacks of books weighed down on his desk, the trashcan was half-full of cigarette butts and empty cartons, and the professor’s face was finally starting to show his age. Alex honestly didn’t know if the professor had slept for a single hour since arriving in Australia.
“Can’t sleep?” Nelson asked, not taking his eyes off his work.
“I don’t know if I want to.”
“It’ll get better, just wait.”
Alex looked up at the ceiling, chuckling to himself as he saw the greasy smoke stains worn into the white tiles by all of Nelson’s cigarettes. Truth be told, the room reeked unbearably of cigarettes, and would probably never smell nice ever again.
“You were a host, weren’t you?” Alex finally asked. Once again, Nelson spoke without looking up from his work.
“I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you’ve been waiting for a long time to ask me that, instead of JUST NOW figuring it out.”
“I kind of knew it when you showed up in that interrogation room back in Maine. You always talk about hosts, not as an observer or “expert” on them, but as a first-hand experiencer. How did it happen? Were you exposed to a nail while working for the BSC? Were you a host first and then devoted yourself to studying the nails?”
“The second one.”
“How far did you get through the steps?”
Nelson finally leaned back in his chair and looked at Alex, taking a moment to light up a fresh cigarette.
“I had just finished creating two more nails when I was arrested and put in BSC custody.” He answered after expelling his first puff of smoke. Alex’s eyes widened as he imagined the professor performing the ritual.
“You mean you actually went through all the steps?”
“Not all of them. I didn’t have time to place the body in a location where it would be found and the nails would find new hosts. But it doesn’t matter, the damage was already done. Every time I close my eyes, I see her face.”
“The victim?” Alex hesitantly asked. Nelson had never been this open. Had sleep-deprivation broken through the silent shell he normally kept around himself?
The professor sighed.
“She was my neighbor’s daughter, eight years old. I believe I told you how a host must destroy the humanity of a female victim. I knew her well, she looked up to me like I was a member of her family. The whole time the Black Stigmata was forcing me to rape her, to torture her, and make her a suitable incubator for new nails, she wouldn’t stop crying. She begged me to stop, asked me why I was doing it, why I was hurting her. She apologized over and over again, thinking she had done something to make me angry with her. I wanted to stop more than you could possibly imagine, but to defy the Black Stigmata when its hold over you is that strong is like standing in a suit of red-hot armor: Just the slightest movement burns you.”
Pulling away his glasses, Nelson revealed two tear streaks running from his bloodshot eyes.
“A pen and pencil, I drove them into her eyes to end her life and create more nails. By that time, I had been sobbing for so hard and so long that I could barely see and my eyes were bloody. I had thrown up so many times that my stomach was shriveled up. I was so glad to have finally killed her, twisted as that may sound. When you perform the ritual, every moment is spent thinking on how long it would take her to recover if something interrupted you. If cops stormed in, if the Black Stigmata suddenly lost its hold, if the ceiling above your head spontaneously caved in and ended your life. You think about the time it would take for her wounds to heal, for doctors to repair the damage to her genital region, for therapists to bring her back from the brink, for her to be able to get better and live a normal life.
But there comes a time in the ritual when you realize that there is no recovery from this. What you’re doing to her will never be something as simple as a painful memory. You’ve broken her, you’ve destroyed her innocence, you’ve made it so that life can be nothing but a hellish nightmare, even if she did somehow escape and survive. You realize that she would be better off dead. But you can’t grant her that mercy, the Black Stigmata won’t allow you to stop the ritual. It forces you to continue torturing her, carving out bits of her flesh for each symbol. Soon you’re begging to be allowed to kill her, to end her young life and spare her more pain.
After the BSC captured me, I underwent the LSD treatment and started working for them. After all the damage I had done, I decided I would do everything I could to prevent the creation of more hosts and victims. I studied accounts of the Black Stigmata long into the nights and hardened my heart so that those damned nails would never make me their puppet again.”
“What happened to the girl’s family?” Alex asked after several silent moments passed.
“They were told that the girl had been kidnapped and murdered, they never knew it was me and they weren’t allowed to see the body. The last thing I heard about them was their suicides.”
Standing behind the cash register at LL Bean, Christi spared a moment to turn away from the line of customers behind her and watch multiple police cars scream by. It seemed like every day, the police were being called out to answer someone going berserk or recover a grotesque body found in a public place. Professor Nelson had told her that this would happen, that the Black Stigmata was increasing its activity and spreading its influence with unusual force. Portland and all surrounding towns and cities were decaying into a hellish mess with mass murders daily. There had already been three public shootings in crowded locations with multiple victims and corpses were being littered throughout the state like the professor’s cigarette butts.
“Excuse me.” Said the woman at the front of the line, putting her shopping bag up on the counter and shaking Christi from her thoughts.
“Oh, I’m sorry.”
Christi hurriedly began scanning the woman’s items, trying to move the line along and make up for her daydreaming.
The sounds of gunfire rang out through the store without warning, sending everyone tumbling to the ground in paralyzing fear. Screams of pain echoed and the smell of blood filled the air. Christi could see him, the man with the gun. He was standing by the entrance with a crazed look in his eye but an expression of hatred for what he was doing. There was nothing in particular about his appearance; he fit the definition of generic. He was just a regular guy, made an unwilling puppet of the Black Stigmata. Bodies lay strewn about, a few people twitching but most of them still, completely unmoving in the growing pools of gore. At the edges of the field of death, loved ones of the dead and wounded screamed in fear, desperately wanting to rush over to the people they cared about.
Ejecting his empty magazine, the man reloaded and immediately began firing again, killing everyone who had not yet fled and soaking the racks of clothes and camping gear with blood. Men, women, and children; all were cut down without hesitation or mercy. Crouched behind the counter, Christi rocked back and forth on her heels, praying for this to be a bad dream and to survive this horrible ordeal.
“Die, you son of a bitch!” Christi heard, recognizing the voice.
Daring a look, she saw the manager of the gun store, Ted, appear from the hunting section with a shotgun in hand, still tagged from the rack. An old man with thinning white hair, Christi knew him as a very kind person, loved by everyone. Now he was foaming at the mouth, blinded by rage. Chambering a round, Ted squeezed the trigger and sent the deer slug flying across the store and into the gunman’s shoulder, delivering enough destructive power to cleave off his arm with an eruption of blood.
Paying no attention to the severed limb lying at his feet, the gunman raised his pistol and delivered a bullet straight to Ted’s forehead, blowing a stream of gore and brains out of the back of his skull. Grabbing the shotgun, a young man of about Christi’s age stood up and ejected the empty shell casing. Relying on experience from watching action movies, the untrained customer fired and blew a fist-sized hole straight into the gunman’s stomach. Several inches to the right of the spine, the lead thumb left only shreds in place of the gunman’s kidney.
Once again, the man showed no hesitation in ending the novice hero’s life with a single bullet, even with blood pouring from his body by the liter. To everyone’s relief, the sounds of police sirens screeched from outside as a line of cop cars was formed in front of the store. Wasting no time, they charged towards the entrance with their guns raised. Looking over to them, the half-dead murder raised his pistol to his temple.
“We will all achieve death!” He screamed before pulling the trigger.
“You know, I can’t get over how much this changes human history. I mean… I thought humans originated in Africa and migrated eastward, but if we were really around back during the time of Pangaea, then that whole theory goes right out the window. How were we so wrong?” Alex muttered, spinning in a chair in the office that Nelson was using. This was one of the few times that he was able to actually stop and rest, the BSC had him working like a dog almost nonstop. Goddamn, he knew he was doing this so that he could be of use, but these people had better be paying him or at least giving him something for all this work. He certainly couldn’t put this on a resume.
“Unfortunately, history is not an exact science. Contrary to what people think when it comes to dinosaur bones, skeletons do not last forever. There is a cave in Belize called Actun Tunichil Muknal, where Mayan children were ritualistically sacrificed. They’ve been there for so long that their skeletons have actually fused with the cave and become one with the stone. Considering their conditions, it’s no surprise that we rarely find a human skeleton older than ten thousand years.” Said Nelson, leaning back in his own chair with a wet rag over his eyes. He had been working nonstop since arriving to Australia, but he had barely made any headway. His eyesight had degenerated to the point where he could barely navigate the office building.
“But when you consider the fact that archeologists have found skeletons of Neanderthals and early humanoids that are maybe one or two hundred-thousand years old, you can’t help but wonder what the hell the person who made this cave was like. Was he some kind of lizard man? Was he an alien? Could he have been some kind of time traveler?”
“You’ve been watching Ancient Aliens again, haven’t you? Well it is very possible that there was a humanoid species long before humanity’s supposed migration out of Africa. Humans are merely one evolutionary path, so that path could have been repeated.
Listen Alex, I want you to go back home.” Said the professor, taking the rag off his eyes.
“What?! I can’t leave this!” Alex exclaimed as he jumped from his seat.
“We’ve barely made any progress on figuring out that text, and at the rate we’re going, you’ll be delivering coffee until Groundhog’s Day. Go home, spend some time with your family. You’ve certainly been away from them for too long.”
“But what about when you do manage to decode it?”
“Then we’ll fly you back here if you’re that desperate. Your plane leaves tomorrow, no arguing. Go home.”
“Your girlfriend just survived a brutal mass shooting. She’s unhurt, but I think she needs you more than we do.”
Running out of the loading bay and into the terminal in the Portland airport, Alex was nearly brought to the ground by Christi’s tackle and the tight hold of her arms around his neck. Lifting her off her feet, he embraced her with all of his strength, breathing in the sweet aroma of her hair.
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry I wasn’t here for you.”
“It’s ok. Even if you hadn’t left, there was no way you could have known what would happen. It’s not your fault, don’t blame yourself.”
“Are you sure you’re ok? Were you hurt anywhere?” Alex asked, separating from Christi and giving her a brief look from head to toe.
“No, I’m fine, I was hiding behind the counter. Don’t worry, I’m not hurt. But it was the scariest thing that ever happened to me, and I can’t say I’ve been sleeping well since then.”
“Well I’m here to stay this time. Christi, you wouldn’t believe what we found in Australia! It’s mind-blowing! Unfortunately, it will take a while for the BSC to fully decode everything, so I was sent back here.”
“I’m so glad, welcome home.” She said gratefully as she embraced him again.
“Yeah… home…” He mumbled, losing his smile.
It was that afternoon when Alex stepped out of the front door of the rehab facility, with Christi clinging to his arm and checking to make sure he was ok at every minute that passed. He had to keep up the belief that he had never left the facility so that his parents wouldn’t ask questions. As far as they knew, he had been institutionalized since his escape from prison. But it was strange, Alex felt like his old self again… Well, more like he had just woken up from his coma. Flying to Australia had distracted him from the trauma of his hallucinations and had coaxed his subconscious into repairing itself. But now that he was back home, he felt,,, sick. He felt like the progress he had made in his recovery was crumbling away, like he was returning to his broken self.
Walking past rows of trees and the manicured lawn, the frigid breeze that kicked up the leaves around his feet was incapable of drawing so much as a shiver from him. Parked in front of the large white Victorian-style building, his parents’ car rested. Both with wet eyes, his mother and father rushed over and embraced him, glad to finally have their son returned to them. After everything that had happened since the start of autumn, for Alex to return home safe and sound was nothing short of a miracle.
Seated in a wheelchair, her auburn bangs trembling in the breeze, Colleen looked at him with a warm smile on her face. His visitation with her before his institutionalization had been made a secret, so to keep their parents from suspecting anything, they both had to act like this was the first time they were seeing each other since she was attacked. But in a way, it was. Colleen had regained her mental stability, having come full circle when the power of the Black Stigmata allowed Alex’s hallucinations to brush up against her own dreams. Neither of them knew it, but what they had experienced and done to each other was in a sense real. Alex’s mind was now a bit screwy, but she was once again sane, and they both had just enough mental health to enjoy the reunion.
Moving past his parents, Alex got down on one knee in front of Colleen and clutched her hands, warming them against the chilly air. They were both silent, Colleen with her smile but Alex with a look of guilty despair. Christi and their parents watched as Alex leaned forward and hugged her his sister, holding her tightly with his head in her lap. While she stroked his hair, he silently cried in guilt and self-loathing.
He had been so terrified of seeing her after waking from his coma, being here now made him sick. He had long-since regained him memories of what he did to her in his dreams, and suffice to say, his inability to face her was the real reason why he had fled to Australia instead of coming home. Being with her again after causing so much harm to her and countless others… he did not know if he even deserved to look upon her.
“It’s ok, everything will be fine.” She hummed.
“I can’t believe how long it’s been since I ate a real meal.” Alex grunted, stuffing his face with chicken and buttered noodles as if he had just been rescued from a concentration camp.
“So what are you going to do now that you’re out?” Colleen asked, sitting across the dinner table.
“Well it’s far too late for me to simply go back to class, the semester is almost over. I guess there is nothing I can do but try and find a job until the spring semester.”
“I’m in a same boat. LL Bean has been closed due to the shooting, probably permanently. I’m out of the job.” Said Christi, sitting to Alex’s left.
“Well Christi, I believe the pharmacy downtown is hiring, but Alex honey, I think you should take some time off. After everything you’ve been through, you need time to recover.” His mom sighed as she passed the salad bowl over to Colleen.
‘You have no idea.’ Alex thought to himself.
The conversation continued on throughout the family, but Alex remained silent. It was clear that his parents were trying to make everything seem as normal as could be, as if Alex’s incarceration and Colleen’s attack had never happened. It was hard for any feeling of lightheartedness to sustain itself. Even Colleen’s normally sunny disposition had yet to fully return. With Alex, Colleen, and Christi all recovering from their traumas and the world around them essentially burning, it was hard for normality to take hold.
It was close to midnight and Alex and Christi were both sitting in the living room, enjoying a crackling fire in the fireplace. Christi was sitting on the couch and Alex was sitting in a nearby rocking chair. A coffee table stood between them with the warmth of the fire seeping away through the cold glass of the numerous windows. There were two doors on either side of the fireplace, both closed. There weren’t any bedrooms above the living room, so they might as well have had their own personal little cabin.
“And I just sat there thinking ‘is this really what Alex had to endure’? I couldn’t believe what was happening, I thought that man was going to kill everyone in the store one at a time. I saw him take two shotgun blasts and it did nothing to him.” Christi whispered with her lips barely moving, recounting the events in the LL Bean store.
“I know how it felt for you, I really do. I know how that terror strangles you and makes you sick, how you keep expecting everything to end and for you to wake up like it’s just a nightmare.” Said Alex.
“I just felt so helpless. There was nothing I could do to save myself or anyone else. If he had slowly walked over to the counter, I doubt I would have even been able to run. I was completely paralyzed. How did you do it? How did you get out of that prison? You never told me exactly how you escaped.”
Alex opened his mouth several times and closed it, unsure of how to begin. He hadn’t told anyone about what happened in the prison, not even Nelson. Rubbing his sweating palms on his jeans, he finally began to speak.
“Not gracefully, I can tell you that. I was simply acting on instinct and trying to do what the heroes in action movies did. I did a lot more running and hiding than actual fighting. I woke up in the visitation room, the guy who had brought in the nail was dead beside me. All but one of the guards had been murdered in some huge brawl that occurred when I blacked out. He came at me with a broken baton, so I tripped him and strangled him with my chains.
After I managed to unlock my restraints, I gathered what weapons I could and began making my way through the prison. Christi, it was a true hell in there. Men were killing, raping, and eating each other. There were corpses strung up from the catwalks, burning like torches. The floors were slick with blood and littered with strips of flesh and entrails. Convicts and guards alike were laughing as the tortured each other.
The smell… my god, I never smelled so much blood in my entire life. I felt like I was snorting a line of pennies crushed into dust. And they weren’t all crazy, there were some people who were in control of themselves. They were sane enough to feel pure fear and agony. I can’t help but wonder if the Black Stigmata left them alone just so that they would suffer more, or so that the rest of the prison could hunt them down like wolves after sheep.
I remember ducking into an empty cell when some SWAT guys showed up. They gunned down a line of prisoners and then turned their weapons on each other, laughing as they did so. At least from their corpses I was able to retrieve some pistols and few magazines. From the cellblocks, I moved on to the cafeteria. It was filled with people eating each other. Prisoners and guards were just tearing into their victims like the zombies from World War Z. You told me the gunman said something like “we will all achieve death”, right? One of the cooks from the kitchen turned to me and said that, then used a knife to cut open his torso.
After that, all of the guards and prisoners became aware of me. I killed as many as I could and made my escape. I managed to reach the yard by crawling through a hole blown into the wall by a crashed helicopter, but just as I felt the grass against my skin, those monsters found me. I sprinted across the yard as fast as my legs would carry me, being chased by a tidal wave of screaming mouths and grabbing hands. I fired what bullets I had into the horde, never even slowed them down. It was like trying to put out a forest fire with a squirt pistol. I think I was so scared that I even started sobbing while I ran. Tch, pathetic.
I found an overturned fence and threw myself up onto it. Reaching out to the rings of barbed wire that lined the top, I heard the plane. I could see it falling out of the sky like a beacon of despair. It was like watching the White House go up in flames or the dropping of an atom bomb. I realized just how powerful the Black Stigmata is and how it could not be defied. It was a force of nature, stronger than anyone who had ever lived or ever would live.
At last I managed to climb over the fence and hit the ground, just soon enough to watch the fireworks. It’s funny, but in that second before the plane crashed, I was suddenly overwhelmed with curiosity as to what was happening in the prison. I thought about the other people like me, the ones who weren’t driven mad by the Black Stigmata and were cursed with fear and dread. I imagined that handful of guards and prisoners and pictured them trying to think up a survival plan. I imagined a small group fighting off the horde as they looked for a place to hide, I imagined prisoners like me running desperately for an escape route, I imagined guards cowering in cells or offices, clutching pictures of loved ones while the raving swarm yanked at the doors. I even imagined what other strange scenes of brutality were taking place throughout the prison. How people were dying in the laundry room, in the basement, in the guard towers, and just about every place that I had not already witnessed.
Realizing what was about to happen, I couldn’t help but wonder about the stories coming to a close, with nobody to read the final chapters. No one would ever know of their last minutes of desperation, of their fight for survival, of their flight from the pawns of the Black Stigmata. Their deaths would go unrecorded in a hellish pit of blood, concrete, and fire, and I shivered at the thought of dying as they did. To die… in a way where your body would never be found and the cause of death never known, and the memories people had of you would forever be incomplete, like a book without a final chapter.
The plane struck the prison and it was like the Black Stigmata itself had pierced the earth and was bleeding its fiery heart dry. It was a single instant, but it felt like several minutes, in which a wave of death reached out in all directions and cut down all in its way like a colossal lawnmower with flaming blades. The burning shockwave hit my pursuers with such force that they exploded into clouds of ash, due to their jettisoned blood instantly being incinerated.
The shockwave washed over me and I survived unscathed. After that… the Black Stigmata took over my mind.”
The longer he had spoken, the dryer his force became. When he had started, he was animated in his movements, be they swings of his hand or just the slightest shrug. But as the story went on, he became more and more still, his mouth forming the words with less movement and his lips becoming like that of a ventriloquist. He was facing Christi but looking past her like she wasn’t even there. His expression told her that he was back at the prison yard, watching that plane strike like the hammer of a wrathful god. To him, his living room was gone, and he was instead watching a hundred prisoners and inmates spontaneously combust in the burning pulse of the plane crash, their heads bursting like confetti party poppers.
Sitting there, Christi was forced to accept the change that had taken place in the heart of the man she loved. His trials had not broken him, at least not beyond repair, but she knew that these memories would haunt him until the day he died. She could do nothing but stay by his side, but after everything that had happened, she had come to realize how happy it made her to have that privilege.
Smiling she reached out and clasped his hands.
“Come take a seat over here.” She said with a smile.
“Why?” He asked, still caught in the flashback.
“Because you need the consolation that only a woman can give.”
Shaken back to reality, Alex smiled and moved over to the couch, only for Christi to stand up. Slowly moving her hips to the rhythm of soft hum, she licked her lips and began unfastening her blouse one button at a time. Thinking back to the last time they had had sex, Alex smiled and felt his manhood become engorged with blood from anticipation. Slipping out of the blouse, Christi grasped the hems of the white tank top underneath and slowly pulled it up. The cotton fabric slowly rose, revealing her navel in the center of her smooth flat belly, lightly framed by the muscles earned at the college gym.
Pulling it up above her head, she revealed the tan lingerie keeping her breasts in place, the two cups struggling to hold in her bountiful breasts. Running her hands down her chest, she slipped her fingers into the waist of her jeans, unfastening the button and zipper and slowly pushing it down her curvaceous rear. A pale red thong greeted Alex’s eyes, clearly a choice made in anticipation of this evening. The thin fabric betrayed her, broadcasting the shape of the vertical lips between her legs.
Continuing to hum, Christi turned around while gyrating her hips. Letting Alex gaze upon her voluptuous rear end, she grasped the sides of her thong and pulled them up tight, sinking the narrow stretch of fabric between her smooth ass cheeks.
‘Goddamn, I wish I was her thong right now.’ Alex thought to himself as Christi bent over and spread her legs, teasing Alex with the barely-covered front and rear entrances of her delicious body.
“Would you like to have the honors?” Christi purred, standing up and pulling her long blond hair forward.
Hands shaking in eagerness, Alex reached out and released the clasp of her bra, watching and licking his lips as Christi removed the article of lingerie. Again, she leaned over and spread her legs, letting Alex slowly pull her thong down between her soft cushions. As the skimpy fabric moved across her smooth skin like a windshield wiper on a dry day, Alex kissed her taut rear end over and over again, savoring taste of her sweet skin. Once her underwear sat down around her ankles, Christi helped Alex spread her ass cheeks and he immediately sodomized her with his tongue like he was sucking on a whisk covered in batter. Just like the first time he had gone down on her asshole, there was absolutely no taste other the latent hints of soap. Christi rarely showed any initiative or effort in her life, but when it came to maintaining the front and back doors of the sex temple that was her body, she was like a germaphobe with OCD.
Christi giggled as she felt his tongue penetrate the tight ring of her anus over and over again. Her giggles were mixed with soft coos of pleasure as he reached up and began stirring his thumb up and down against the entrance to her gates of paradise. She added her fingers into the midst, stroking the lips of her pussy with his thumb shaking between them a vibrator.
After a minute or so to let Alex indulge himself, Christi turned around and began to straddle his lap. Grinding herself against his denim-sealed erection, she joined her lips with his and used her tongue the way Alex had used his. Moving his hand, Alex cupped her voluptuous ass cheeks and squeezed them lovingly, even daring a few playful smacks. As her grinding increased in aggression, Alex felt no hesitation in inserting his middle finger in Christi’s ass. The sudden penetration drew a sudden yelp, but Christi showed absolutely no contempt to his finger inside her. In fact, she only kissed him with more aggression.
Her leaning back told Alex that Christi was ready to move to the next stage. He pulled his finger from her ass and was about to lick it clean, but she grasped his wrist and stopped him. Giggling, she lowered her head and sucked on his finger like the bottom of a birthday candle after pulled out of a cake. Right then and there, Alex came, right then and there. Technically it was pre-cum, but it still felt like a wet dog had just slobbered on his underwear.
Removing his finger from her mouth with a pop, Christi stood up and Alex quickly pulled off his sweatshirt and t-shirt. About to pull off his pants and underwear, he raised an eyebrow at the puddle in the crotch of his jeans. That wasn’t his pre-cum, that was Christi’s “anticipation”. Pulling his pants and underwear down to his ankles, Alex revealed his sprawled-out cock, glistening with pre-cum. Grasping the shaft, Christi stood it up and spared a few seconds to lick off every succulent molecule. Returning to his lap, she settled herself down onto it, purring as it entered her slippery pussy.
Once Alex’s manhood was fully submerged in her wet interior, Christi began to heave her erotic frame up into the air without ever letting Alex’s cock leave her body. Her mouth was open, whimpering gasps passing her red lips, Christi churned herself on Alex’s cock, skewering her body with his muscular phallus. Watching her glorious tits jump with each thrust of her body, Alex couldn’t stop himself from scrubbing her nipples with his tongue like they were covered in chocolate syrup.
“Oh god, your cock feels so good!” Christi whined.
“I could say the same about your pussy. It’s like it’s sucking me in! I can’t get over how good its feels!” He grunted.
“How about a taste then?” She hummed, slipping her tongue into his mouth.
As if communicating telepathically, Christi stood up and Alex laid back across the couch. Returning, Christi supported herself on all fours on top of Alex, taking his cock into her mouth and succulently licking off her pussy juice. At the same time, Alex had his face buried in her sweet slit, sending his tongue as deep into her velvet sleeve as possible. Having already loosened her up with his cock, Christi’s pussy easily gave up its addicting flavor. Her smooth thighs on the sides of his face nearly made him climax, but it was the sounds that triggered it. Beyond the sound of Christi’s hums of pleasure from the movements of his tongue, it was the sound of her mouth slurping on his cock and then releasing over and over like she was drinking the syrup of a rapidly-melting popsicle.
That sound, like gum being chewed, it was almost as perfect as the feeling of her tongue and lips massaging his dick with splash after splash of saliva. The perfect taste of her cunt, the sound of Christi’s euphoria and her effort to gargle on his cock, and the wet softness of her mouth broke Alex’s threshold of control, leaving him with just enough time to warn Christi.
Instead of pulling her head back, Christi lowered it until the head of his cock was against the back of her throat. With the inch of exposed shaft at the base of his penis, she stroked him into a full foamy eruption, shooting two weeks of pent up semen into her throat. Sucking up every drop like the antidote to a poison, she left him with nothing but a sparse reserve load. Immediately he began to deflate, but she continued to blow him, playing around with his flaccid cock in her mouth as if for some kind of childish amusement.
After a few minutes, he returned to full-mast, much to Christi’s delight. Moving forward, she sat down on his lap and began grinding her pussy against the shaft of his cock. Reaching back, she spread her ass cheeks, letting Alex stare straight at her brown eye.
“You want this?” She teased.
“You know I do.” Alex said with a smile.
Alex placed his hand on his cock and pushed it forward, bending it towards Christi. Licking her lips, she pushed her ass back and let it penetrate her, entering her body seamlessly and producing a breathtaking view. Holding herself up on her hands and knees, Christi slid back and forth on Alex’s cock, moaning from the huge mass in her anus and the friction she had to overcome. Deciding to help her, Alex grabbed her hips and pulled her back hard, making her yelp from the sudden rough penetration. Taking the lead, he began thrusting into her from his laid-down position, ignoring the friction gripping him and instead just driving into her hot body as hard and fast as he could. His aggression heightened Christi’s moans of euphoria, and she even leaned back in a crab walk.
“Oh god, your cock feels so good in my ass! I’m cumming! I’m cumming so hard!” She cried, thrusting her body up and then slamming herself down on Alex’s dick, trying to violate the deepest recesses of her body.
Alex began thrusting his body upwards to match her thrusts, having finally gotten lubed up enough to move freely inside her. To try and control Christi’s rhythm, he sat up and groped her breasts, barely able to hold them in his grip. Christi certainly fit the definition of the perfect body. With big tits and a tight ass, it made her easy-going personality even more lovable.
In the minutes that passed, Alex’s back began to ache from the awkward angle he was holding himself up at. He needed to change position. Putting his hands under her knees, he lifted her up and shifted sideways, sitting against back of the couch like he had originally been. Without dropping Christi’s legs, he resumed thrusting up into her like a madman, while she laid across his chest with her legs in the air, moaning in ecstasy while rubbing the swollen lips of her cunt like she was trying to put out a fire.
‘We should do this position again but record it. I really want to see how we look from the font.’ Alex thought to himself as he felt all the muscles in his pelvic region begin tighten up.
His core muscles already burning from the strain, Alex put all of his strength into ten more thrusts and gave one final grunt as every last milligram of seed was fired into Christi’s rectum. Alex dropped Christi’s legs, having lost all of his strength and once again flaccid. Giggling, Christi got down on the floor and began slurping up any last little sperm and her body’s lubrication, wrapping her tongue around the boneless thumb that his manhood had become.
“I love you Christi, you know I love you, right?” He asked, suddenly feeling sentimental. A tender smile on her face, Christi climbed up onto his lap.
“I know you do, and I love you as well.” She hummed, giving him the softest kiss.
Three months, it was three months before Alex received acknowledgement from Nelson. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s passed by without so much as a text message. In time, Alex nearly forgot about the Black Stigmata and began thinking about returning to his normal life. But on a bitter Sunday morning in February, the buzzing of his cellphone woke him up.
“Hello?” He yawned, trying to imagine who would be calling him before noon. It sure as hell wasn’t Christi, she would be passed out like him.
“It’s Nelson. I’ve booked you a flight path for tomorrow morning.”
Alex jumped out of bed.
“You decoded it?!” He exclaimed.
“Yes, and you aren’t flying to Australia. You’re meeting me in Antarctica.”
“Huh, this isn’t half bad.” Said Alex, standing at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole airport, in the very heart of Antarctica.
The heart of the station was a massive metal-plated building up on stilts, boasting 80,000 square feet of space, equal to a strip mall. It was neighbored by the former base, a dome that led underground. He had been pleasantly surprised when he looked up the weather in Antarctica, finding that February was actually late-summer. The temperature had to be in the high fifties, barely deserving of a fleece compared to the winter cold in Maine. It was a good thing he was in the center of Antarctica, the ocean breeze kept the coastal stations below freezing.
Damn, he was actually in Antarctica, the cold white basement of the earth! It was hard to believe he had traveled so far. He had been flying nonstop for a week, but this was definitely worth it.
Walking away from the plane, he was approached by Nelson, chewing on a cigarette as always. He had been standing by a black helicopter, already manned by a pilot.
“Welcome to Antarctica, you’ll get sick of it soon enough.” The professor muttered.
“Endless daylight with continuous weather in the high fifties? I may buy a winter home out here.”
“Well then I hope you like wet socks. Come on, there is something you need to see and hear.” He said, walking back to the helicopter. Readjusting his duffle bag over his shoulder, Alex walked with a slight spring in his step, excited for the answers he was about to receive. Plus, he would be riding in a helicopter for the first time in his life. Though to be honest, he would have preferred to stay on solid ground for a while.
It was a two-hour flight to whatever location it was that Nelson wanted Alex to see. Not a single word was spoken the entire flight, though Alex frequently asked the professor questions on what he had found, only to be denied an answer. Nelson seemed even more tense than usual and refused to give up any secrets. Accepting that he would have to be patient, Alex resigned himself to the view outside. Fields of glistening platinum under the deep blue sky, Antarctica was truly an awe-inspiring place. Alex just wished he could have come in winter and seen the Aurora Borealis. Or, as one of his fellow passengers had corrected him on the flight from South Africa, the Aurora Australis.
The flight ended when the helicopter reached an isolated camp out in the middle of nowhere. It was situated not on the geographic North Pole, but in the center of the largest unbroken stretch of open land. Tents, trailers, and mobile offices were littered around a single metal shack, but the camp was clearly under the possession and jurisdiction of the BSC. Experts in all fields of study from paleontology to geology were rushing back and forth throughout the camp like frightened ants, clearly excited over some source of information.
“Come with me.” Nelson grunted, climbing out of the helicopter and walking over a trailer stationed by the metal shack. Alex followed him inside, finding rows of lockers along the walls. Opening up a pair of lockers, Nelson revealed two airtight suits with glass face panels. They almost looked like repurposed space suits, but with an oxygen tank strapped to the back like a scuba suit.
“Put this on, you’re about to see the coldest, darkest place on earth.”
“I feel like Neil Armstrong in this thing. Seriously, if this were night and the gravity was weaker, I would swear I was on the moon.” Said Alex, walking out of the trailer and back out into the camp. The suit he was wearing was snug and had been difficult to put on. Already he was overheating and had to keep the glass face panel of his helmet open to prevent fogging.
“Get all the jokes out now, because our radios won’t work once we go down and our helmets will have to be sealed.”
“Go down where?”
“Down there.” Nelson answered, pointing to the metal shack in the center of the camp, just as two people in similar suits stepped out. Next to the tiny building, Alex spotted a large humming generator and saw that the door was actually watched by two armed guards. Approaching the guards, Nelson held up his credentials.
“Professor Chris Nelson, my ID number is 8362F9IT7M4. This is Alex Stevens. He’s not in the system yet, but I have him set up with the proper clearance.” He announced. His badge was scanned and he and Alex were allowed access to the shack.
Measuring twelve by twelve feet, the sole purpose of the shack was to hold a large cast-iron elevator, mechanically controlled by a winch hooked up to the generator outside. With open sides and a dingy exterior, it looked like a relic from an old coal mine, and in the back of his mind, Alex wondered if it was really safe.
“Grab me a canister from that box over there.” Said Nelson, pointing to a metal crate set in the corner. Opening the lid, Alex stared at a line of metal cylinders, each about the size of a soup thermos.
“What are these?” Alex asked, handing one of the strange crafts to Nelson and climbing into the elevator.
“It’s a special kind of flare, the only kind we use down here.” Said Nelson, pressing a button on a control panel on the side of the door. The winch gave a soft whine and the elevator began to descend, dropping below the surface.
“I’m surprised you people still use this shaft. It’s summer, isn’t it? We’re in a tunnel made of ice. Doesn’t it seem like a bad idea when the temperature outside is almost double the freezing temperature?” Alex asked.
“Don’t worry, this ice doesn’t melt, at least under normal circumstances.” Nelson replied. His tone was strange, devoid of the bad mood Alex had detected before. When he spoke, it was in a calm matter-of-fact way. Pressing the control panel in the elevator door, he turned on an overhead light in the skeletal frame.
“Doesn’t melt? What are you talking about?”
“To put it simply, energy is forbidden from entering this space. That law strengthens the farther down you go, so drilling this tunnel became slower and slower as we descended. You’ll sense it soon, the dropping temperature in the air. Look at the ice around you, notice anything?”
Alex glanced around at the smooth ice shooting up past them.
“It’s not disappearing, no matter how deep we go. We’re already well below sea level but there is no bedrock.” Nelson answered for him.
“How is that possible?”
“It’s possible because Antarctica is not frozen due of its geographic location, and neither is the North Pole. There is an axis running through this planet, an abomination that defies all logic and science, that manifests itself in arctic temperatures at the highest and lowest points of the planet. That axis was left behind by something. Think of it as like a vacuum.”
“Damn it, will you please just make sense and tell me what you found in Australia? Why the hell did you bring me here?”
“We found the answer to the origin of the Black Stigmata. We know where it came from.”
“And it came from Antarctica?” Alex stammered, shocked by the revelation he knew was imminent.
“In a manner of speaking. Tell me, do you know about the World Tree mythology?”
“I must have skipped that class.”
“It’s probably the most ancient mythology in human history, and unlike other myths and religions, it has been found in all corners of the globe, believed by ancient peoples who were incapable of worldwide contact. The legend speaks of a tree that holds this world together, binding heaven and earth, as well as binding every living thing within creation, acting as both the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life.”
“Tree of Knowledge? You mean like in the story of Adam and Eve?”
Nelson cracked a grin.
“While it was been greatly changed over the eons, that story is quite true. 65 million years ago, dinosaurs walked the earth simultaneously with humans. The “humans” weren’t Homo Sapiens of course, but everything is relative. They lived peacefully with all life, a far cry from the way we destroy anything that crosses our path in the name of progress. Anyway, at this time, all of the continents of the globe were joined together to create Pangaea, the single landmass that stretched between the north and south poles. Humans had spread to all corners of Pangaea, united in their worship for the World Tree, which manifested itself in the north and south poles.
The World Tree was the origin of all life, the entity from which the first primordial organisms came into existence. It ruled the world as a mindless yet divine force, commanding the respect and adoration of all living things within its domain. Every creature big and small knew never to hurt the tree… or to eat its fruit. It was a law engraved in the DNA of every organism and was an instinct as powerful as the will to live. But as everyone knows, the very definition of being human is the ability to defy one’s primal instincts.
Whether it was a man or woman, we do not know, we could not get an accurate translation. The only meaning we could draw from the word used to describe him was the word “person”. I’ll say ‘him’ and ‘man’, just to make things less complicated. According to the inscriptions in the Australian cave, this man was a being of unparalleled evil. He was a sadistic sociopath who would kill anyone who got in his way and did whatever it took to get what he want. He was the embodiment of the Seven Deadly Sins. I’m paraphrasing of course.
Believing that it would grant him immortality, the man harmed the World Tree by plucking one of its fruits, and defiled it by consuming its flesh. In the story of Adam and Eve, the Apple of Knowledge gave mankind awareness of immorality and original sin, thereby corrupting them. The truth is that the opposite occurred… Whether it was the blackness of the man’s heart or just the darkness of such a blasphemy act, he corrupted the World Tree when he consumed its sacred fruit. Imagine the biggest and most powerful computer in the world and then give it the most crippling computer virus capable of being written.
The knowledge within the tree was eternally corrupted and became the essence of sin. The World Tree, which had originally been the beacon and symbol of all life, transformed into the omen of eternal death and horror. The most destructive traits in the human soul contaminated the tree and brought about a cataclysmic event, the likes of which the earth had never seen. The volcanoes of the world vomited liquid flames, tsunamis washed across the landscape, toxic gas and ash blocked out the sun, Pangaea was split open like a skull struck with an axe, and plagues of unholy wrath eclipsed the world in rotting despair.
The wrath of the World Tree was set loose upon the world in its act of self-destruction. At the polar ends of the earth, the World Tree sunk into the bedrock and encased itself in a demonic chill, draining the very energy from the environment so that everything around it would be bleak and empty. You’ll see what I mean soon enough. We’ve developed a nickname for the event: Ragnarök, referring to the apocalypse of Norse mythology.
As for the person who started it all, he received a deserving fate. Having been nibbled down to a slender core, the fruit of the World Tree that he had consumed became the first Black Stigmata nail, transforming into a spike of unholy and lifeless iron and containing all of the knowledge of the World Tree after its corruption by the man. Now knowing nothing but wrath, death, suffering, and horror, the power of the World Tree that he had coveted turned on him. It forced him to perform the ritual on himself, ending his life and making him both the first host and the first victim of the Black Stigmata. Then from that nail and the two he had created, it spread.
After Ragnarök, mankind was driven near to the brink of extinction, and the earth was barely able to recover. It took a long time for mankind to come back from the edge. Considering it took 65 million years for extinction to no longer be a fear, I’d say humanity was cursed by the Black Stigmata and had to suffer on the fringes of existence. It’s likely that the endless creation for new nails continuously whittled down their numbers until there were only enough to keep the species alive.”
By the time he was finished speaking, the elevator had descended several miles below sea level before finally coming to a stop. A passageway had been carved into the ice in front of the elevator door, but looking down through the metal grate floor, Alex saw that the vertical shaft still went much deeper.
“Why aren’t we going further down?” He asked.
“We made that mistake the first time. Trust me, you need to keep the elevator at a safe distance.” Said Nelson as he activated a light on the top of his helmet.
“From this point forward, keep your suit shut and make sure you’re getting oxygen. We won’t be able to communicate and our vision will be severely limited. Just a head’s up.” He further instructed, sealing his own faceplate and turning the nozzle on the air tank on his back.
Mirroring the same steps, Alex sealed himself up in his suit and followed Nelson into the narrow ice corridor, trying the control his breathing while his heartbeat thundered in his ears. The distance was only about fifty feet and it went around a slight turn, but Alex was brought to a dead stop with the sweat seemingly freezing to him at the sight. It was not a door, he knew that much. Nor was it a tarp, barricade, window, or any kind of hard surface. It was black, black as the coldest recesses of space. The corridor was suddenly cut off with this darkness blocking the way like a curtain. The lights of their helmets shined on it like solid material, unable to pass through it but also seeming… rejected by it. It was not like it was reflecting off something, more like the light was unable to pass by. A metal rod had been secured into the ice wall by the entrance to the abyss.
This darkness was unnatural; it was unwholesome. It weighed down on Alex’s mind with indescribable dread, the same dread he had felt when he watched that plane plummet from the sky before striking the prison. They should not be there. They had to leave! They had to get out of there now! Turning to Alex, Nelson unhooked the end of a spool of wire hitched to his belt and secured it to Alex’s, then locked the spool with a length of ten feet.
“Watch your step and do as I do. But first, secure your wire to that rod.” The professor instructed, speaking through a radio in his suit.
Alex nodded, and with the metal canister under his arm, Nelson approached the vertical field of darkness. About to enter the threshold, he got down on his hands and knees and moved into it backwards, with his lower body instantly dropping as if he were hanging from a cliff. As he lowered himself down, any part of his body that passed that black field became completely invisible to Alex, as if Professor Nelson were entering a portal from a sci-fi movie. Giving Alex one final nod, he lowered himself all the way into the darkness, with his light immediately disappearing as if he were passing through a waterfall.
The tightening of the wire told Alex he had to follow, even though every fiber of his being was telling him to run. Taking several deep gulps of oxygen and checking to make sure the wire from his belt was tied securely to the metal bar, he did as Nelson had done and lowered himself into the darkness backwards, feet first. As his feet passed through, he felt the ground beneath them vanish. Even more terrifying; a deathly chill seemed to saturate every cell that had passed the barrier, as if he had submerged his bare foot in liquid nitrogen. He wanted to pull his foot back out, but three tugs on the wire told him that Nelson was getting impatient.
He slowly pushed himself in, wincing and gaging as the unnatural cold passed through his suit and assailed him. Actually, it wasn’t quite the cold entering him, but the warmth leaving him, essentially being ripped away like layers of flesh. He had felt this cold before, back when he was on that mountain in his dream. He couldn’t go through that again, he couldn’t! He would rather die than experience that!
Deciding that he needed some “positive reinforcement”, Nelson’s hand shot out of the darkness and grabbed onto the back of Alex’s suit and he yanked Alex into the abyss. Hitting the solid ground, Alex felt the indescribable cold rip the air from his lungs. He couldn’t see anything, there was only total blackness. Even the dim lighting from the corridor had vanished. It was as if he had been cast into an empty dimension devoid of even a single photon.
He felt Nelson give him a rude kick, as if to say,
“What are you waiting for, your slippers and a cup of hot coffee? Get off your ass!”
Alex got to his feet, but struggled on the slanted ground. His blindness certainly didn’t help. But as he stood up, a bright light suddenly ignited high up in the distance. It was the flare he had taken from the shack, launched from its metal canister. Shooting through the air, the bright ball of light struggled to remain lit, looking more like a candle in a persistent breeze. What was going on with it? Regardless of its struggle, the sphere was able to light up the environment, leaving Alex breathless.
He was standing in a tunnel five hundred feet in diameter, stretching onwards into eternity. In one direction, the tunnel seemed to expand, while in the other direction, it seemed to fork out into smaller tunnels. It was… breathtaking. But as he looked down at the ground, he noticed something that chilled his blood more than it already was. Every square inch of ice, otherwise smooth as glass, was inscribed with a symbol from the Black Stigmata. With the days he had spent, forced to see those goddamn symbols glowing in front of him like neon lights, he would recognize them anywhere. There had to be trillions of them in this cavern alone! Hundreds of trillions!
Up above, the light further dimmed, and Nelson grasped Alex’s shoulder and guided him back to the exit. Pulling on the wire he had secured outside, he pulled himself up out of the ice cavern and back into the corridor. Upon leaving the darkness, the deathly chill left his body so quickly that he actually began to overheat. Glad to be out of the abyss, he got to his feet and pulled on Nelson’s outreached arm, helping him climb back into the light. Without speaking, he and Nelson walked back to the elevator and began the trip back up to the surface.
“So that tunnel, that was…”
“A cavity left behind by one of the branches of the World Tree before it completely destroyed itself. I believe you saw all the symbols in the ice?”
“Do you have any idea what those symbols are now?”
“Ideas have been tossed back and forth. Some think it is the language of some ancient alien race that placed the tree here. Don’t you even fucking start. Others suggest that the symbols are a form of Feng Shui, used by the tree and the Black Stigmata to manipulate energy for their own purposes, sort of like antenna for receiving and transmitting power. Personally I find that idea to be the work of drunk theoretical physicists, but I can’t deny that it makes the most sense out of all of them.”
“So what was the deal with that flare?”
“In any other situation, that flare would have blinded you if you looked at it, even from a distance. It was made from phosphorus, thermite, and other gifts from the baby Jesus to produce the most volatile and energetic burn. I told you, energy is essentially forbidden in that zone, so we have to make every reaction ten times more powerful to get at least one tenth of the normal result. Going completely overboard with that flare was the only way to provide any sort of illumination. No other light sources work down there. Why do you think we have to wear these suits? They’re to try and keep us from bleeding to death of the energy of our bodies.”
“So what do we do now?”
“Well we’re still working on figuring out the actual meaning of the symbols. We’re certain that the humans who lived before Ragnarök understood the language of the World Tree. Using the information we’ve gained so far from the cave in Australia, we’re able to begin decoding the sequence of symbols needed to turn victims into viable incubators for new nails. Once we understand the code, there is no telling what we’ll be able to accomplish.”
“But what should I do?”
“Go back home and try to keep an eye out. Having been a host, you’ll know what signs to look for in people. You’ll know how to confront them. You may be able to get your hands on a few nails before they cause any damage. How is the situation back home?”
“Everything is going to hell. Mass shootings and murders are becoming daily problems and everyone is losing their minds.”
“It doesn’t surprise me, I had a feeling things would get worse while I was gone. I don’t know why, but the entire Portland area and all the surrounding towns are serving as breeding grounds for the Black Stigmata’s influence. More than that, this same effect is being seen around the globe. The Black Stigmata is growing in strength and I don’t see anything good on the horizon.
When we get back to the surface, we’ll take your picture.”
“For your BSC credentials. If you are going to be doing anything in regards to the Black Stigmata, you’ll need the proper clearance and resources, including information.”
“So what, am I going to some super secret spy school for BSC agents?” Alex kidded.
“No you idiot. Do you really think anyone in the BSC goes through any kind of boot camp? I know only a handful of people who could run a mile… You’re going to get your intern credentials—basically a learners permit—a booklet of information, and a number to call if you find a host or a nail. A large percentage of the people in the BSC were hosts at one time, and like me, it’s how they got involve in the organization. Former hosts have to go through less training than the non-hosts, because they understand the Black Stigmata better and know how to confront other hosts.”
“So I’m really in the BSC?” Alex asked with excitement.
“Settle down intern, you sure as well won’t command any authority. But yes, welcome to the BSC.”
p.s. I am actually a huge fan of Ancient Aliens.